The Reading Workshop: an overview – The Royal Residences Network
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  • The Reading Workshop: an overview

    Last week saw the first network workshop take place at the University of Reading, under the theme of ‘Site Dynamics and Long-Term Chronologies’.

    This blog post is designed to offer a brief overview of the contributions, with subsequent posts planned to cover some of the themes raised during the discussions in more detail.

    By way of introduction to the evidence under discussion, the workshop began with a showcase of the latest results and interpretations from the five projects at the heart of the network.

    Gabor Thomas opened with the results of eight years’ worth of archaeological investigation at Lyminge, outlining the long chronology of the site and noting the key transitions and transformations observable in the archaeological evidence.

    Gordon Noble then took us to the lands of the Northern Picts – drawing in particular upon recent fieldwork at Dunnicaer, Rhynie and Burghead – and presented an impressive programme of radiocarbon modelling for the region.

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    Helena Hamerow and Adam McBride subsequently focused our attention on an interesting pair of great-hall complexes in the Upper Thames Valley, with the recent fieldwork at Sutton Courtenay identifying the largest great hall now known from pre-Viking England.

    This was followed by Christopher Scull, who presented the results of an ambitious programme of metal detecting and targeted excavation at Rendlesham and outlined a spatial model for interpreting the site and its environs.

    The final contribution from the network project showcase was given by Sarah Semple and David Petts, whose project is currently revisiting the iconic site of Yeavering through a review of the excavation archives and a wider consideration of landscape use and practice.

    After lunch the floor was opened up to a series of papers from network contributors, the first of which came from David Rollason who rather evocatively deconstructed the secular-spiritual dichotomy in favour of a more composite, sacral form of kingship.

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    This led into a discussion of the Scandinavian evidence from Mads Holst, who very usefully compared, contrasted and characterised the evidence from a number of important sites; namely Borre, Gamla Uppsala, Lejre, Tissø, Gudme and Jelling.

    With the wider Scandinavian context expertly introduced, it then fell to Dagfinn Skre to present results from a newly-discovered and rather remarkable great-hall complex at Avaldsnes in Norway; a site characterised by its commanding position of control over key sailing routes in sheltered waters.

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    The second day commenced with a morning paper session, again featuring contributions from network members. Barabara Yorke began with an illuminating paper discussing the often difficult documentary evidence for royal residences, drawing our attention to a number of important case studies.

    This was followed by Frans Theuws’ fantastic exposition of the evidence for royal residences in northern Gaul, in the process outlining some key issues with the archaeological data and the need for new perspectives.

    Closing the formal papers, Thomas Pickles drew upon textual, linguistic and material evidence to present a long-term structural model for the royal network of the kingdom of the Deirans; a methodology with significant potential for an interdisciplinary understanding of royal residences.

    The final afternoon featured a wide-ranging and illuminating round-table discussion that focused on five themes: the role of antecedent landscapes; the afterlife of sites; trajectories and site dynamics; transformations in character, function and roles; and agenda for future research.

    As a doctoral researcher currently writing a thesis on Anglo-Saxon great-hall complexes it may come as no surprise to learn that the workshop was of immense value, and thanks are given to all participants for a fantastic event. Roll on Durham!

    Note: particular thanks go to Zoe Knapp for organising the day-to-day running of the event, and for taking pictures when I forgot.

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